The Exchange Has Concluded!

Day 3 addressed collaborations and cooperative endeavors, and concluded the Exchange. Recordings of the presentations, plus the presenters’ slides and a transcription of the presentations, are available on the Exchange website.  We encourage you to continue the conversation with the presenters by submitting comments and questions to their presentation pages on the website. The following summary is provided courtesy of Exchange Working Group member Marlee Givens.

Exchange Day 3: May 8, 2020. Collaborations and Cooperative Endeavors

Keynote: Keynote - Sustainable Thinking for the Future of Libraries: presented by Rebekkah Smith Aldrich

Described by Exchange Working Group Chair Kristin Martin as “uplifting,” this keynote celebrated the strengths of libraries as places of camaraderie, as catalysts for social engagement and change, and as conveners who bring the community together to act. Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, author of Sustainable Thinking: Ensuring Your Library’s Future in an Uncertain World, opened her keynote by talking about the world. During this time of disruption, complexity, and uncertainty on a global scale, she reminded attendees that we can respond through kindness and (in the words of her grandfather) taking care of each other.

Smith Aldrich urged attendees to consider “The Long Now,” and that the decisions made in this moment in time will impact generations to come. Quoting both Greta Thunberg and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Smith Aldrich enumerated ways in which we can have the confidence to act, starting at the local level and taking a social approach. It is significant that ALA has adopted sustainability as one of its core values, and libraries have a role to play in the sustainability of their own communities. For example, the West Vancouver Memorial Library has adopted sustainability as a core value in its strategic plan, and the Santa Monica Public Library is a key player in that city’s Wellbeing Project.

We can embrace the concepts of “hopepunk” and the triple bottom line as we take care of our library workers, increase practices of sustainability, and demand a kinder world. Smith Aldrich called on attendees to broaden our cultural competence and focus on inclusivity. She invited them to “library science the shit out of this.” As the executive director of a network of sixty-six public libraries, she shared stories from these and other libraries that are responding to their communities in novel ways, both before and during the current Covid-19 pandemic. Initiatives range from on-site efforts like 3D printing of PPE, repair cafes, and self-sufficiency programs, to community outreach like block parties and picnics. They include social media outreach and offline outreach like calling community members to check on them. One innovative library added local experts (like beekeepers) to its catalog. Another allowed local youth to take over their youth programming after a group of young people asked for a space “to make the world suck less.”

Lastly, during the Q&A, Smith Aldrich reminded us that while libraries are non-partisan, we are not neutral. We must be politically aware, but we can also reach both sides of an issue and find common ground. She concluded by encouraging us to learn more about sustainable buildings.

Using Project Management Principles to Ensure Successful Collaboration: presented by Jami Yazdani

Experienced project manager and Founder and Chief Strategist of Yazdani Consulting and Facilitation, Jami Yazdani explained the principles of project management as a framework for creating and working toward a shared vision, and to address the question “what does success look like?” Project management principles of scope, deliverables, schedule and communication can contribute to a shared vision and help a project team complete its work and measure its success.

Scope gives the project team its purpose and focus, and Yazdani recommended that teams use a well-defined scope to achieve buy-in and consensus. Consensus is a shared vision of success, reached through a shared agreement and willingness to accept the plan to move forward. Deliverables define what the team wants to accomplish and guide the team’s work through actionable tasks. Scope and deliverables should be documented for transparency and trust. A schedule sets realistic and specific, though flexible, expectations for when deliverables are due and when the project will have achieved success. Communications define what internal and external stakeholders need to know and when. Successful project teams set clear expectations about communication and allow for feedback.

Yazdani offered suggestions for using project management principles for committee work and meetings. Committees can set goals and use agendas and timelines to set expectations. They can manage scope by using a parking lot or idea board to save ideas for another time. They can also document accomplishments. Meeting agendas should define the purpose (even something as simple as discuss X, decide on Y) and goals of the meeting. Attendees can manage meetings without agenda or scope by asking questions, using key phrases like “just to make sure I’m clear” when summarizing decisions and recording action items, and asking for deadlines.

The presentation ended with recommendations for collaborating during the pandemic, when many of us are working remotely. This may be a time to think broadly about the collaboration, review the scope and deliverables, reconsider the vision of success, and revise the project as necessary. It’s also a time to focus on the quality of communication, allow for discussion, invite feedback and inquiry through tough questions, and to feel okay with asking for more time.

Making Connections through Campus Collections: presented by Susan Ponishchil

Susan Ponishchil was the new Metadata & Resource Discovery librarian at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) Libraries, when she was presented with a problem: managing the inventory of small focused collections belonging to campus partners outside the library, which are indexed in the library catalog. She learned about practices, identified contacts, and developed a plan to prioritize solutions to the issues she uncovered. She wrote a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining the responsibilities of the library and the campus partners in tracking inventory for these collections. She also worked with her colleagues to more adequately describe the location of items in these collections.

Due to Ponishchil’s success, as she defined it, “word got out,” and new partners approached the library to add their collections. She’s currently working on additional refinements to the management of these small, unique collections, including ensuring that these items circulate in their locations and are not lent through interlibrary loan, and using templates to streamline transportation of items through campus mail. She’s also investigating an inventory tool provided by Institutional Marketing at GVSU that could potentially track use counts. She finished her presentation with an interactive sequencing exercise to help participants consider what steps they might take to pursue a similar project.

Cultivating Tolerance through Conversation: Creating an Inclusive Community at Your Library: presented by Caroline Dulworth

Unfortunately, this presentation did not take place during the live event, and will be recorded and available on the Exchange website.

Beyond "OK, Boomer": Understanding Today's Intergenerational Workplace Cultures in the Library: presented by Raymond Pun, with panelists Sarah Dallas, Eboni Henry and Jahala Simuel

The panelists provided their perspective in response to several provocative questions about the different generations (Traditionalist, Baby Boomer, Generation X, Millennial and Generation Z) who are employed in or use our libraries. They engaged the audience through polls to ask what words come to mind when we hear these labels. Pun then shared word clouds that showed characteristics from recent publications about the generations.

Following question prompts from moderator Pun, panelists considered several aspects of generational differences and divides, and offered their experience and advice as supervisors in libraries. Staff in all generations can play a role in reviewing library services, cross-training and team building, and offering creativity, skills and strengths. Supervisors can offer a safe space for dealing with conflict, listen with respect, lead by example, recognize the value of staff, and put people first. The ideal intergenerational workplace provides professional development opportunities, transparency in communications, data-based decision-making, and especially at this time, making the mental and physical health of its staff a priority. Some particular recommendations included celebrating staff, setting norms for virtual meetings, having fun activities and sharing pictures, and (when in the office) having food-based events where people can share about their culture.

The chat was lively and also multigenerational. Some questions and answers included recommendations on how to get to know staff and to treat everyone as an individual, to move away from using labels and to strengthen cultural competence, and to focus on the strengths and skills that each person brings to work rather than stereotyping based on generation. Pun summarized the conversation by stating that there’s not one right way of doing things.

This was the final session of the Exchange, and session moderator Susan Davis thanked participants for sticking through to the end. She also thanked Mike Morneau from LearningTimes, who handled technical arrangements. In closing, Davis reminded attendees about the upcoming CORE Virtual Forum, which will take place November 18 and 20, 2020. She added that attendees would receive an evaluation, and the discussion forums will remain open through next week.

Day 1 of the Exchange Has Concluded!

The first day of the Exchange successfully concluded. Recordings of the presentations, plus the presenters’ slides and a transcription of the presentations are available on the Exchange website.  We encourage you to continue the conversation with the presenters by submitting comments and questions to their presentation pages on the website. Additionally, you’re encouraged to use the Twitter backchannel #ALLExchange to interact with other participants throughout the conference. The Exchange website features a Twitter feed to keep everyone informed. Day 2 continues on Wednesday, May 6, at noon EDT.  Each day will conclude with a summary of the day’s events. The following summary is provided courtesy of Exchange Working Group member Narine Bournoutian.

Exchange Day 1: May 4, 2020. Leadership and Change Management

Keynote: Making Power, Making Change: presented by Emily Drabinski

Drabinski emphasized the importance of building power collectively to make the change that we want both in our institutions and the world. This topic is especially relevant in the current pandemic: what power vacuums are now opening up?  Librarians should be aware of the power built into library infrastructures; the systems we build determine what’s done within them and how the power flows. This applies to many systems within libraries, which means that many of us do have some ability to determine the flow of power within our libraries, even when it seems like we may have none. One example cited was the LC classification system, which can set up a narrative of power- -what is worthy of classification or set up as the default narrative?

Emily noted that power is contingent and contextual, relative to a demand, and shared/collective (which is the essential principle behind union activity within libraries). She shared her experience as a locked out faculty member at previous position and how it helped her learn how to build power collectively, particularly in a union environment. She stated that solidarity can take many different forms, including the less visible organization on the backend that’s essential for public organization and overall change to occur. Finally, Emily pointed out that unions are good structured systems to leverage collective power, but not the only method to do so. She recommended getting to know everyone in your organization and having the ability to collaborate and mobilize collectively, particularly in a non-union environment.

Managing Change from The Inside-Out: The Library as Catalyst for Transformational Change: presented by Cinthya Ippoliti

Ippoliti’s presentation focused on transformational change as defined by Jean Bartunek: one where there’s a shift in organizational attitudes, beliefs, and values. Reframing often requires new information and perspectives, which can lead to conflicts and contradictory ideas within an institution. She highlighted different kinds of leadership, but recommended the concept of inclusive leadership, which focuses on diversity, curiosity, intelligence, being impartial about one's institution, holding others and oneself accountable, and being open to collaboration.

Cinthya noted that administration and institutional leaders must establish trust: be consistent and transparent about the organizational processes that drive change work and consider the processes themselves in detail. It’s important to show vulnerability and acknowledge mistakes when they’re made, as well as being mindful of psychological challenges to changes. One must also develop a strong infrastructure: establish guidelines, documentation, and clarify roles. Participants shared their own opinions on infrastructure challenges, including lack of staff, funding, transparency, communication, documentation. In closing, Cinthya stressed the importance of stakeholder engagement—it’s important to have stakeholders as collaborators in inclusive leadership. Leaders must be sure that they can tell their community's story authentically for an audience to understand it and to ensure that it reflects their institutional values.

Are We Ready? Including Organizational Readiness in Your Change Plan: presented by Aaron Noland

Noland’s presentation addressed extending Lewin's Change Model, which he felt has limitations due to its assumption that change is linear (which it isn't all the time). Lewin’s Change Model is a 3-step process: A) Unfreeze: emphasize the need for change while managing anxiety; B) Change: plan and implement and communicate with everyone involved; and C) Refreeze: institutionalize the changes, celebrate progress. Some of the pitfalls for successful change include lack of impetus to change, insufficient communication, lack of vision as to "why," no short term wins, claiming success before it’s done, and a lack of connecting change to organizational culture.

Aaron proposed that “readiness” should be added in as a first step in Lewin’s Change Model: one must assess the organization’s preparation for change before there’s any unfreezing.  Readiness is formed by both organizational attributes and individual attributes. Ways to increase readiness included vicarious experiences, formal communication from the top down, improving organizational culture, and mastery experience with smaller scale changes. He provided examples from the James Madison University Libraries, which used low stakes annual planning to increase readiness for larger institutional change.

Culturally Responsive Public Services: presented by Sarah Copeland, Chapel Cowden, and Lu Gao

“Culturally responsive” was defined as the ability to understand and consider the different backgrounds of the people you teach or to whom are offered services. It’s an important consideration for all public facing services within the library, even if staff are not in an immediate customer service role. The presentation also touched on culturally responsive teaching for instructional librarians, which is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including cultural references in all aspects of learning. It’s vital that library staff recognize the importance of relationship building, self-reflection and self-education, and move beyond "cultural highlighting" in their services and collection.

It was recommended that librarians can broaden their cultural responsiveness by reading widely, completing continuing education, finding relevant facts, and listening to the concerns of all community members. Sarah, Chapel, and Lu shared a list of recommended reading for librarians to broaden their knowledge, which can be found with the presentation handouts.  The presentation also emphasized that self-reflection is critical before getting to know one’s communities. They invited participants to engage in guided self-reflection and posed the following questions: what’s your cultural background and can you think of ways that it affects your approach to providing library services?

3 C’s for Leading Community Engagement Initiatives in Academic Libraries: presented by Steven Bell

Bell started his presentation by highlighting the “Town-Gown conflict” that often arises when universities take over a neighborhood and make local residents feel like outsiders, particularly in high-density urban neighborhoods. However, universities need the support of such communities for both the communities and institutions to thrive and for a positive relationship to form between these two spheres. One relevant example from Temple University was that a planned football stadium’s construction was indefinitely delayed due to protests from local residents.

Steven then went on to illustrate the three “C’s” for community engagement: A) curiosity- investigate every possible opportunity to engage with your community; B) Collaboration: be willing to take the first step and reach out to administration, community leaders, or both. This also means be willing to face rejection; C) Conviction: believe in your ideas and articulate them in ways that will gain you followers. He provided examples of two successful projects at Temple University Libraries, including an initiative to offer summer library jobs to middle school students and to help them consider libraries as an employment path. Despite initial resistance, students excelled at the work. A second community engagement project was to open computer lab hours for local community residents who lacked access to internet or computers, including staff offering tech support if needed. Steven then invited participants to share their own ideas and examples of community outreach projects or initiatives.


Ensuring Successful Collaborations During and After COVID-19

Jami Yazdani is the Founder and Chief Strategist for Yazdani Consulting and Facilitation. She’ll present the session “Using Project Management Principles to Ensure Successful Collaborations” on May 8, at 1:25 pm EDT. Her guest blog post follows.

 Like most organizations grappling with social distancing and stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries rushed to move more services and work online. After meetings, committees and project teams pivoted to online communication tools, many librarians have discovered that being able to communicate at a distance isn’t always enough to keep collaborations going.  How do we ensure successful collaborations during and after COVID-19?

Beyond the tools teams will use to communicate, those leading collaborative endeavors should also consider other factors in supporting successful collaborations:

Take a step back and think more broadly about your collaboration.  Given the challenges facing our organizations and team members, is this collaboration still a priority?  Review and discuss the project or committee’s purpose with your team and key stakeholders to decide if and how to proceed.  If you do need to postpone meetings and activities, when will you reconvene?  Be sure to set a timeline for making decisions and share that with your team.

Go back to the collaboration’s fundamentals.  With your team and key stakeholders, review and discuss the collaboration’s purpose, deliverables and schedule.  What does success look like now?  What might success look like in a few weeks or months?  Consider how you can scale your activities and expectations to this revised vision on success.

Focus on the quality of communication.  Provide opportunities for open discussion, inquiry and feedback, both as a team and one-on-one.  Now, more than ever, make time to talk with your team and key stakeholders.  Be clear, respectful and reasonable, and create a space where team members feel comfortable offering ideas and asking for more time to think about decisions and complete tasks.

How is COVID-19 impacting your collaborations?  Are you postponing projects and initiatives or continuing to pursue deadlines established pre-COVID?  Want more strategies to support successful collaborations?  Join me on Friday, May 8, at 1:25 pm EDT, to learn more about “Using Project Management Principles to Ensure Successful Collaborations”.  Leaders at all levels can apply project management principles and best practices to projects, committees and other collaborative endeavors to ensure positive outcomes. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below (login required).

Cultural Responsiveness






Sarah Copeland is Director, Desks and Patron Experience, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Chapel Cowden is a Health and Science Instruction Librarian, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Lu Gao is a postgraduate student at University at Albany (SUNY). Together, they’re presenting the session “Culturally Responsive Public Services” on May 4, 2:50 p.m. EDT. Their guest blog post follows.

Libraries strive to welcome all members of their communities, but many fall short of their desire to truly engage the diverse communities they serve. The work of diversity and inclusion requires deep and continuous engagement to move beyond token gestures of inclusivity.

You may be reading about this upcoming presentation and perhaps wondering, “Yes -- but how?” It can be overwhelming to consider all the work that’s needed to make our libraries inclusive spaces that welcome our diverse constituents. This presentation will focus on practical steps that you can take today to start building more inclusive public services.

Transformation starts with individuals, and one very important step that we encourage you to take is to start a reflective practice. For you to get the most out of the “Culturally Responsive Public Services” presentation, we invite participants to consider in advance how they would answer the following questions:

  • What’s your cultural background? How would you describe your identity? In addition to race, ethnicity, and religion, consider other aspects of your identity. For example, are you a first-generation college student, working class, or belong to a group that has impacted your perspective on the world?
  • Can you think of ways that your cultural background affects your approach to providing library public services? For example, does your cultural background help you identify with some patrons?

We’ll be taking a closer look at ways that individuals can lead departments toward deeper inclusiveness in our presentation “Culturally Responsive Public Services.” We welcome your questions and thoughts on these topics, which you may share prior to our session by replying to this post (login required).

The Importance of Documenting Library Work

Emily Nimsakont is the Cataloging and Metadata Trainer at Amigos Library Services. She’ll present the session “Documenting Library Work: Lessons We Can Learn from Technical Writers” on May 6 at 2:15 p.m. EDT. Her guest blog post follows.

Documenting our library processes and procedures is important; we all know this, but somehow, it can be hard to sit down and spend time creating the documentation, especially when that could take time away from doing the processes themselves.

There are many reasons for having good documentation, such as standardizing the work of multiple people, or making sure the knowledge of how to do something doesn’t just reside inside one person’s head. However, the current COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront another important reason to have documentation. When something happens and you must radically change your working environment, having good documentation in place makes it easier to determine how to change the process.

Library workers are often asked to wear many hats, and in my Exchange session, I’ll ask you to try on the hat of a technical writer. Technical writers are trained to write documents that explain how to do things. My session will provide an overview of the technical writing process and discuss what library staff members can take away from it to make it easier to document their work.

During my session, we’ll brainstorm about how to document a mock process. If you’d like to work through this mock process in advance to prepare for my session, instructions are available.

What are some processes and procedures in your library for which you wish there was better documentation? Has the current pandemic changed how you think about documentation? If you have answers to these questions, or any other comments you’d like to make about the topic, please leave a comment on this blog post.

Join me on Wednesday, May 6, at 2:15 pm EDT, to learn more about “Documenting Our Work: Lessons We Can Learn from Technical Writers.”

Community Engagement and Academic Libraries

Steven J. Bell is the Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services at Temple University. He’ll present the session “3 C’s for Leading Community Engagement Initiatives in Academic Libraries” on May 4, 3:25 p.m. EDT. His guest blog post follows.

Academic libraries serve two communities. Our traditional community is the internal one: students, faculty, staff and alumni. There’s also an external community that can benefit from the resources and services academic libraries offer. That community is composed of the neighbors who live in the areas surrounding our campus borders. It’s also part of the tradition of higher education institutions to put up walls, real or intangible, to set itself apart from the external community. Sometimes referred to as the "town-gown conflict,” this relationship is characterized by a tension that pits colleges and universities against their neighbors as adversaries fighting for land and other resources. In the 21st century, enlightened institutions of higher education realize that their survival and future goes hand in hand with that of their neighbors. Those institutions that fail to be an integral part of improving the quality of life in the external community may find their own quality is diminished in the long run.

In my Exchange session, “3Cs for Leading Community Engagement Initiatives in Academic Libraries,” I'll share what I believe are some essential qualities needed by academic librarians to help their institutions succeed in their mission to change the narrative on town-gown relationships from one of conflict to cooperation. Community engagement is perhaps more critical than ever for academic librarians as their institutions strive to do better, and expect the library to be welcoming to and of service to external community members.

Academic libraries can offer leadership by engaging with community programs. I'll share examples primarily from my own institution. What example(s) can you provide from your institution? How are you engaging with your local community? Access to technology? Collaboration with a local school? Allowing access to library databases? There are any number of possibilities. You can share your example by leaving a reply to this post (login required). Join me on Monday, May 4 at 3:25 p.m. EDT to hear more about the “3Cs for Leading Community Engagement Initiatives” at your academic library.

Managing Change from Inside-Out

Cinthya Ipololiti,  Director and University Librarian, University of Colorado, Denver, will present the session “Managing Change from the Inside-Out: The Library as Catalyst for Transformational Change” on May 4, 12:45 at 1:25 p.m. EDT. Her guest blog post follows.

Change management is widely discussed today in a wide variety of contexts, including libraries. At the organizational level, change can prompt the organization to question its core mission, vision, and values as it grapples with its situational conditions and experiences. Managing change in this environment is not about controlling the change and reactions to it, but rather engaging in activities and discussions that help to shape it. To effectively deal with change, one must first understand what it is and how it affects the organization on both a structural level (doing things differently), and an affective one (how each person reacts to these dynamics). Change is much more complicated than the application of a specific model or framework, and the other facets of change, such as anxiety and uncertainty, are often up to the individual to navigate without much direction or support.

Transformational change is defined by Jean M. Bartunek as one in which there’s a shift in organizational attitudes, beliefs, and cultural values. David L. Dinwoodie et al. draw comparisons between transformational change and ecosystems: it’s widespread and self-sustaining, occurs in stages and in networks that face systemic disturbances, and that it encounters challenges and opportunities that provide added layers of complexity. If we examine these elements more closely, we begin to see that what they’re discussing is a staged approach in which individuals help to prepare the organization for change by understanding the existing terrain, strengthening and growing relationships as change becomes integrated within the system, and creating an environment where it’s is widespread and sustained. 

This session will offer information about transformational change components, what type of leadership actions and considerations might be effective in navigating this environment, plus practical applications of these concepts through organizational examples and best practices.  Let’s discuss your questions about these processes and elements. Please insert comments and questions into this document via Google Docs.

Making Power, Making Change: A Discussion with Keynote Speaker Emily Drabinski

Emily DrabinskiEmily Drabinski is the Interim Chief Librarian at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She’s also the liaison to the School of Labor and Urban Studies and other CUNY masters and doctoral programs. Her research includes critical approaches to information literacy instruction, gender and sexuality in librarianship and the intersections of power and library systems and structures. Ms. Drabinski is one of the keynote speakers for the Exchange. Her address is titled “Making Power, Making Change,” and will take place on Monday, May 4, 2020, at 12:10 p.m. EDT.

The following is a Q & A with Ms. Drabinski.

1. Critical pedagogy is defined as a progressive approach that connects social and political change to education. What led you to become involved with critical pedagogy? Please discuss how you apply critical pedagogy in your current position.

ED: I have always found cataloging and classification work to be the most intellectually fascinating and necessary part of what librarians do—ordering and describing everything in the universe in a single system is such a grand and impossible goal, and what got me interested in being a librarian in the first place. I worked briefly as an indexer for H.W. Wilson in the early part of my career, discovering quickly that I was more interested in thinking about classification than I was in doing the job. When I started as a reference and instruction librarian at Sarah Lawrence College, I saw that I could bring those interests into the classroom, teaching students about the knowledge organization systems we’re all required to use, and what those systems do and don’t enable as we read and work in libraries. Since then, teaching at that nexus where the patron meets the system has been the focus of my scholarship and my practice.

In my current role, I work primarily with graduate students who are researchers and teachers. Equipping these patrons with critical perspectives on how we interact with information structures can shape their scholarly work and the way they talk about research with their students.

2. What role does advocacy, particularly for marginalized and underrepresented groups, play in critical pedagogy and change management?

ED: In order for change to make a difference to groups that have been on the outside of white supremacist structures like libraries, we have to grapple directly with power: what it is, who has what kind, and how to build ours in order to shape the world we want to see. Advocacy feels too small to me, especially when we think about what change is going to look like post-pandemic. I don’t see myself as advocating on behalf of other people or groups—I don’t know what other people want! Rather than advocacy, I think power-building is what we need. That means identifying demands, shaping campaigns, building majorities, and pushing to control agendas and resources.

3. What are some ways that librarians can use their expertise and experience to have an immediate impact and bring about change? Can you provide examples of transformative change that librarians have made?

ED: Transformative change only happens when there are people around to do the quotidian work of making that change possible. For all the crowing of library futurists, at the end of the day our work is about a pretty simple set of values and commitments that I don’t see changing much. We select and acquire, organize and make accessible, circulate and preserve, connect users to resources. Our expertise lies in making those systems and structures work. Change requires that we understand something about how the present came to be, what steps we take each day to reproduce it, and what we could do differently to make a different future. Librarians have made lots of transformative change happen, much of it so significant that it’s just common sense for all of us now. Purchasing materials with shared funds to be shared among a public—how much has that changed the way schools and universities and the public operate? We’re the ones who made that happen, and who make it happen again and again every time we go to work.

4. The COVID crisis and administrators’ refusal to close libraries could have seriously endangered the lives of library personnel at the expense of continuing to serve our user communities. Providing remote access, extending due dates, eliminating fines, etc. enable libraries to continue to serve users during the crisis. Of course, such strategies fail to meet the needs of people who lack computers, cell phones, internet access, and are homeless, for example. How could this have been avoided? What strategies could librarians have used to leverage a positive outcome to effectively meet the needs of all their users?  Is that possible?

ED: Libraries are about circulation. We circulate print materials, we circulate people and ideas through our library spaces, we circulate access to broadband internet, computers, wireless networks. We have seen how important that work is in the context of this pandemic: the solution requires circulation to stop. I think this is what kept so many libraries open for so long. If you want to circulate something to the public, from tax forms to the census to healthcare coverage sign ups, the library is your go to. But in this case, circulation is exactly what makes the pandemic worse. The best thing for libraries to do in this moment is to stop doing what we are best at. We have to stop people and objects from moving around and from congregating together. Closing libraries is not just about protecting library workers—though that would be enough! —but also about protecting our publics by keeping them away from us and each other. It’s a big cognitive shift for a lot of us.

5. What are ways that library personnel can shape the library of the future? In your opinion, how might that library look?

ED: I don’t think the library of the future is all jet packs and 3D machines and entrepreneurship. The library of the future is the same as all other kinds of futures: precarious and contested. We need to be ready to fight for the future we want. We often talk about the future as something that always gets better, history as an endless march of progress. In this moment, it is difficult for me to maintain that kind of optimism, if I ever could. Maybe virtual and augmented reality is coming for libraries. Maybe not. Regardless of what technology we do or don’t buy, can or can’t afford, libraries will surely also contend with reliance on contingent labor that is underpaid and without benefits, the hollowing out of publicly funded higher education and libraries, catastrophic climate change, and ongoing class war that leaves less and less for more and more of us. Organizing and mobilizing together to increase our collective share of the social wage must be a part of any library future we imagine.

Sustainable Thinking: A Conversation with Keynote Speaker Rebekkah Smith Aldrich

Rebekkah Smith Aldrich
Rebekkah Smith Aldrich
is the Executive Director, Mid-Hudson Library System (New York), a cooperative library system chartered by the New York Board of Regents. She's also one of the keynote speakers for the Exchange, and her address is titled "Sustainable Thinking for the Future of Libraries." That keynote will take place on Friday, May 8, 2020, at 12:10 p.m. EDT.

The following is a Q & A with Ms. Smith Aldrich.


1. How did you become involved with sustainability and libraries?

RSA: Much of my career has been focused on the need to inspire taxpayers, government officials and private donors to invest in libraries. Passing budget votes, referendum for capital projects, designing capital campaigns and smaller fundraising efforts puts a microscope on whether or not an institution is worthy of investment from members of our communities. Are we worthy? Working backwards from that question next led me to think about our values as a profession. We’re a noble profession doing good work that makes a difference in people’s lives. That should be enough, but often isn’t. We need to live our values out loud in everything we do. Our values must be infused in our polices, procedures, facilities, service and program design. If we truly care about those who work in our institutions and those we serve, that should be evident down to the bones of our work. That means we need to start at the beginning, every choice we make tells a story about who we are as professionals and as important community assets that have immense influence over those we serve. How we build buildings, what materials we choose to furnish our facilities with, where do our office products come from, where do they go when we are done with them are just as important as how we treat our staff and patrons, what books we put in our collection, and what programs we develop for our constituents.

Environmental sustainability should be evidenced in our work, alongside a commitment to social equity and fiscal stewardship. This is the “triple bottom line” by which we can create libraries that are focused on the right things, that produce working and learning environments that are healthy for people and a place from which to embed our service design philosophy so that we are focused on the right things – helping those we serve thrive in today’s world.

There’s no bigger shared interest than the health and well-being of our world. It impacts us all and library leaders should take responsibility for caring enough to prioritize the Earth if they truly want to live their professional values out loud.

2. You co-chaired ALA’s Special Task Force on Sustainability. The Task Force’s final report includes this quote, “When considering the urgent environmental threats – air and water quality, food insecurity, depletion of natural resources, rising sea levels, more frequent severe weather and the multitude of economic, political, technological and social disruptions that are evolving concurrently with these life-threatening developments, what the world needs now is more empathy, respect and understanding so that people can pull together to find shared solutions to the issues that affect us all.” Can you elaborate on this statement, which by the way, is so relevant to our current circumstances? What steps can library professionals take to help others thrive in the face of adversity and challenge?

RSA: In my opinion, the most critical element to deal with the climate crisis is social cohesion. The very nature of crisis and disruption is that it has unpredictable elements to it, otherwise we’d have a clear plan and know just what to do to minimize damage to our society. When you don’t have a clear plan, you need smart people who can come together to figure things out and both draw on existing assets of a community as well as source new assets – whether they be physical or intellectual – to solve a particular issue.

As we watch our world leaders tackle the COVID-19 crisis, we can see that the communities that came together to care for one another, to support those who were more vulnerable, to create face masks when a local hospital’s PPE supply was running low – these are the communities that will have less people who die from the virus. Communities that are in denial, who circle the wagons and hoard needed supplies and let the more vulnerable in our communities fend for themselves exacerbate the problem, increasing infection rates and depleting the support system that wasn’t designed for such a catastrophe. If we focus – long-term – on generating empathy, respect and understanding, we’ll bolster a community’s resilience in the face of what’s to come – whatever that may be.

To do this, we need to focus on both the social connectivity and the practical aspects of resilience. Social connectivity can be strengthened in so many ways through library programs and services – choosing titles for a community read that tell stories of compassion, empathy, and a broader understanding of those not like yourself; children’s programs that infuse good citizenship, kindness – as well as through a library’s policies – how we treat staff and patrons through our institutional choices. The practical aspects of resilience – access to food, shelter, clean water, and safety can be addressed through a library’s own facility design and planning – renewable energy sources, greywater systems, generators that enable the facility to serve as a refuge or cooling center; as well as through the programs and partnerships they seek out – programs on self-sufficiency like food production, preserving and canning; repair cafes and fix-it programs; partnerships with first responders for disaster preparedness thinking and training – a focus on local – how will we communicate locally should traditional means of communication break down, how will food supplies be addressed if supply lines are compromised, how will kids be educated if they cannot enter school facilities for a long period of time? Many of these things, which once seemed very farfetched, have come into sharp focus during the COVID-19 crisis; it has greatly tested our business continuity planning and revealed areas that need attention for the future.

3. When people see or hear the term “sustainable,” they tend think in solely in terms of the environment. What are some ways that people can be encouraged to think differently so that they may develop sustainable solutions for their facilities as well as funding and leadership?

RSA: The definition of sustainability has been one of the most important messages to convey throughout our work on this topic. To help people understand that nothing exists in a vacuum, it’s all connected, means we need to deploy a whole-systems thinking strategy to truly produce libraries and communities that are sustainable. This is represented by the “three-legged stool” or triple bottom line definition of sustainability:

• Environmentally Sound
• Socially Equitable
• Fiscal Stewardship

If one of these elements is missing in a decision, facility design, product or policy, it’s highly likely it’s not sustainable. It’s through the balance of these three things that we design sustainable paths forward in our world.

I think we can encourage people to think differently by helping them see how things are connected: how a choice in the business office about copy paper isn’t just about the bottom line of how much it costs, but also about from where that paper came, what resources it took to create it, and where it will go at the end of its useful life. Just thinking through that one product can be incredibly eye opening. Very cool things can emerge, such as realizing you can make a better choice for the environment and actually pay less for the same outcome; it could result in realizing that we use way too much paper and find ways to cut down on that. This same step-by-step thinking can be applied to much larger systems such as paying a living wage, supporting local businesses, building facilities that are human-centric. Basic eco-literacy can go a long way.

4. Please discuss sustainability leadership and what it means. How can sustainability leadership become part of change management?

RSA: Sustainability leadership is a holistic, long-term approach to understanding how to create institutions built to withstand what’s coming. Change is always happening, sometimes on a short or small scale, sometimes on a long or large scale, but usually in between. Sustainability leadership asks us to take a very long view, to keep our eye on a horizon point rather than a calendar and to adopt a mindset of continuous improvement using the triple bottom line as our guiding light. Rather than change management, I see sustainability leadership as framing change as evolution - as a living organism, our institutions are evolving to not only respond or react but to lead the future.

5. What are some immediate steps that library professionals can take to initiate change and bring about sustainability in their libraries?

RSA: Start talking, find others who feel like you do. Institute policy at the governance and administration level of the organization to embed sustainable thinking and convert it to practice. It’s a big lift and one that will take buy-in at every level. What I’ve seen be effective is a champion who can help make the case, teams that can then translate vision into action and then thoughtful leadership that can align their library with community partners who have similar vision. That’s when true collective impact that makes a large-scale difference starts to happen.

6. The Mid-Hudson Library System is enormous, with sixty-six member libraries. The system’s website has a section devoted to sustainable libraries. How is sustainability practiced/instituted among the system’s members?

RSA: Each of our member libraries’ is autonomous with a locally appointed or elected board – that board of trustees is critical to the sustainability of the library. Trustee education and support for our member library directors is a huge focus for us to help them devise policy, programs and services that translate to supporting the needs and aspirations of those they serve. Many of our conversations are kicked off by the pursuit of sustainable funding, meaning voter-designated revenue that’s not compromised by the whim of a new administration. Direct relationships with taxpayers/voters is a way for a community to decide what kind of community they want to be, one that invests in the education infrastructure like the library or one that de-invests in itself. Building credibility, trust, respect and good financial stewardship are the building blocks of helping our libraries be sustainable for the future so they can be co-creators of resilient communities.

7. How can libraries become involved in the Sustainable Library Certification Program?

RSA: The Sustainable Library Certification Program is currently working with fifty libraries in New York State and will be available nationally later this year. There’s no exam or worthiness test to start. We’re interested in working with libraries that have buy-in from the governance and administrative level who understand the importance of the work and want to approach it methodically to aid in a comprehensive look at a library’s policies and practices while positioning themselves as critical allies in their community, in their school or on their campus to address sustainable, resilient and regenerative approaches to the future. Visit to learn more.

Visit the Exchange website for a full schedule and registration information.

Call for Digital Posters for the ALCTS/LITA/LLAMA Exchange

What’s a Digital Poster, Anyway?

A digital poster is basically similar to a paper poster, but in a digital format. It’s a great way to share information about projects that are in progress or that aren’t quite ready for a full paper. But of course, you already knew that.

How do you make yours really stand out, and what sorts of things should you consider?  The following advice is provided courtesy of Emily Thompson, Director, Studio, University of Tennessee Chattanooga.

As with an in-person poster session, keep things graphic in nature. High quality images are key, and it’s better to use a graph to illustrate your finding than a long paragraph of text. Next, select your fonts carefully. That wacky one may be cool, but it’s more important that people can read it. Choose colors that compliment each other, and use darker colors on lighter backgrounds (and vice versa). If you’re worried about choosing the right colors, the Adobe Color Wheel can help you find a theme and provides the hex codes or RGB codes to plug into your software.

Now it’s time to decide on a format. While there are several possible approaches, it’s best to think about how you’d like attendees to view your information. Do you want it presented as a whole, or in chunks of information? If you’d like it to be viewed as a whole, bear in mind that it will look more like a paper poster. Viewers can zoom in on information, and can focus on what most interests them. The Studio at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) has produced a handy guide for how to create one of these using Power Point.

If you want more control over how attendees see your project, there are a few options. One is to take advantage of Power Point’s nifty linking feature. Clicking on the “Insert” tab leads to a “Link” tool. Select a picture or some text, and then click on “Link” to get the “Insert Hyperlink” box. Choose “This Document,” and open the “Slide Titles” menu. This enables you to  choose to which slide to navigate when clicked.

When using this method of navigation, it’s a good idea to plan in what order you want viewers to proceed. It’s also a good idea to include a “back” or “next” link on the slide to help the viewer navigate to the next point.

For something more like a traditional presentation, a “Voice Over PowerPoint” is a great idea. This enables you to add a voice over to each slide and to save it as a PowerPoint Show or an .mp4 file. The UTC Library Studio has a helpful guide for those interested in this option. One caveat: This technique only works on the Windows Desktop version of PowerPoint. It doesn’t work with Macs. Bear in mind, however, that you’re creating a poster, and each slide should only have short narration. The whole show should be less than five minutes, which is still pretty long.

The deadline for poster proposals is March 6, 2020.

Are you ready? So get your data together and submit a proposal. We can’t wait to see what you've got to share!